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Curry and Harllee Families

Updated: Oct 19, 2023

The Curry family came to Manatee in 1859 when they purchased 320 acres, a spring, and two homes. Captain John Curry and his wife, Mary Ward (née Kemp), were both Bahamian. John and “Polly” (as he called Mary) left the Bahamas in the 1840s and moved to Key West. Their house still stands there. In Key West, John became a ship builder, mariner and wrecker (collecting cargo from wrecked ships to sell for profit). In the late 1850s, Capt. John became disenchanted with wrecking and did not want his sons involved in the trade. So they changed course and he and his two sons, John W. and Benjamin S., sailed to the Manatee River to purchase cattle to resell in Cuba. He saw the benefits of the area and brought his large family (including his 12 children and some of their families) back with him to settle. They first purchased the land of Dr. Franklin Branch which included the stockade that Manatee residents took shelter in during the Seminole Wars. The family soon became some of the leading cattlemen in Manatee County.

During the Civil War, the Union Navy had created a blockade of Southern ports and would not allow trade in or out. Capt. John sold their vessels to the Confederacy to be used as blockade runners, bringing in munitions, supplies and other illegal goods. At least two of them were captured by the Union. With this in mind, it should be of no surprise that Capt. Curry is also said to have aided Confederate Secretary of State, Judah P. Benjamin, as he evaded Federal Troops after the Civil War. Capt. Curry is said to have put Benjamin in touch with Frederick Tresca. By doing so, Capt. Curry ensured Judah Benjamin would safely make it out of the country.

One of Capt. Curry’s daughters, Amelia, had ten children from two marriages. Her first husband, Samuel T. Sawyer, died during the Civil War while fighting for the Confederacy. One of their children, Mary, died at age two and is buried here. Mary’s elder brother, Theodore, is buried alongside her. Amelia was laid to rest with the children from her second marriage in Major Adams Cemetery in Bradenton.

Benjamin S. Curry was a son of Capt. Curry. He was a store owner and married Julia Lowe in Manatee in 1864. One of their daughters, Rosa, married Clark Wyatt in 1890 but the marriage was short lived. Wyatt died of Typhoid nine weeks after they were married. She then married his business partner, Frank C. Jones, who was involved with the Sara Sota Vigilance Committee murders in 1884. Jones turned over evidence to the State, which might have saved him from being put on trial himself. Rosa died in 1892 at the age of 18. Her brother in law, E. B. Johnson, lists that she died in “lingering torture”, most likely following childbirth. The burial locations of Clark Wyatt and Frank Jones are said to be in this cemetery but the location within is unknown.

The Curry and Harllee families, both with many children, found themselves intertwined in Manatee County and are usually referred to together.​

Captain John Harllee was a Confederate Veteran who was left with a permanent limp after a bullet shattered his kneecap during the Civil War. After the war, he visited the area with his brother at the request of a cousin. His brother returned to South Carolina but John decided to move. In 1872, he purchased land and opened a store on the waterfront. He was known for his wit and humor and soon swept Mary Ellen Curry, daughter of Captain John Curry, off her feet. They were married and John built a residence on the property in addition to lengthening the wharf to accommodate merchandise deliveries. Together, Capt. Harllee and Mary had several children including Annie, Mary Elizabeth, and Robert (buried here).

Capt. Harllee became one of the village’s leading merchants, selling supplies and livestock. Mary Ellen died after giving birth to a son, William, in 1877. William was raised by his aunt and uncle after his parents’ deaths and became a decorated Marine. He is buried at Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia.

Capt. Harllee died in the 1887 Yellow Fever epidemic. Area lore states that John woke up that morning feeling fine and rode off toward Braden Creek. On this trip, he suddenly fell violently ill and was taken by friends to a nearby home. He died there a few days later.

Welton Stewart was the second child of Peter S. and Alice Harllee. Peter followed his brother, Capt. John Harllee, to Manatee after bringing him mules and horses from Texas. Here he met Alice Bullock and decided to stay in the area. He and Alice are buried in Palmetto. It is unclear why their son is buried here.


John William Curry, ca. 1895-1900, courtesy of Manatee County Public Library Historical Digital Collections

Sunday School Picnic at Braden Castle, ca. May 1889; Rosa Curry & Clark Wyatt are 3rd and 4th standing from the left, courtesy of Manatee County Public Library Historical Digital Collections

John W. Harllee & Sons, ca. 1880s, courtesy of Manatee County Public Library Historical Digital Collections

Robert Harllee - Grave #50

Mary Elizabeth Harllee - Grave #51

Annie Ward Harllee - Grave #52

Mary Ward Curry - Grave #57

John Curry - Grave #58

Mary Harllee - Grave #59

Capt. John W Harllee - Grave #60

Welton Stewart Harllee - Grave #61

Julia Curry - Grave #62

Ben S Curry - Grave #63

Rosa M Jones - Grave #64

All images taken by MVHP staff in 2022 unless otherwise noted.


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